So, for all of you who have been waited with baited breath for the reveal of my not-so-secret secret, with no further delay here it is.
But first, a bit of background.
I have been trying, far and wide, to source wood locally which would allow me to manufacture and sell, a solar food dryer / preserver in order to preserve my excess harvests. I have looked longingly at all those wooden ones overseas - and trust me they come in all sort of different shapes and sizes. I even purchased plans to make one.
However, the wood, which is the majority component in all the various solar structures, was the only drawback, because all the wood available here has been chemically treated. So, enclosing that chemically treated wood inside a closed "heated" space would only cause the dehydrating food to absorb those chemicals. A completely wasted exercise as far as I'm concerned, and completely against my eco-friendly ethos.
Then, last year in November, a post of Tania's cause me to have a lightbulb moment. She posted about her husband manufacturing a structure that would allow her to air dry her excess produce.
Duh!! Why am I thinking like someone from the more inclement northern climes?
There is a flimsy molded plastic model available here which is mainly used to make biltong (jerky), but that requires plugging in a 40watt light bulb, and that, together with the small circulating fan is left on 24 hours a day for as many days as it takes until the food is dehydrated! 40watts X 24 hours = almost a kilowatt of electricity per day! I don't need to add anything unnecessary like that to our electricity consumption.
I need a unit which will allow me to take advantage of our warm, sunny weather.
I wrote to Tanya and asked her permission to copy her idea, and received a generous reply in the affirmative.
So, I got to work, and using into the skills of a local woodworking craftsman, I now present the "Foothills DryAway" :) (Like our animals, and chickens, I love naming stuff, so ditto this has also been given it's own identity lol "Foothills" after our smallholding and "DryAway" after the function of the unit that happily works away on it's own, and after the fact that I can fold away the legs to make wall-hanging winter storage of the unit easier).
|Dehydrating grapes worked very well using a black|
oven tray and food net, but didn't prevent the
flies from accessing the food on which the net was
Whilst I was waiting for the craftsman to find time to make it, I used a black baking tray and a food net cover to dehydrate some homegrown grapes. What I noticed was that the flies could still easily access the food through the netting as I was unable to prevent the netting from making contact with the food. Not good!! I had to ensure that the food was well away from those filthy probing proboscises.
|"Foothills DryAway" - the perfect solution to dehydrate|
excess harvest. And it is 100% Proudly South African
The "Foothills DryAway" is a modified version of Tania's model. It has two outer surfaces of extremely strong fly-proof netting...
|I couldn't wait to use the unit, so I shoved in some|
pineapple sage as the first item
|Dehydrated pineapple sage - specifically made for|
a very special friend...
|Flies have tried their very best, but they are|
unable to access the food drying within :)
1 ensure a tight fit of the two frames to prevent smaller fruit fly type of insects from entering the inner area;
2 prevent the wooden frame from warping during it's long exposure to the sun / any humidity in the air.
|As the pineapple sage was drying I added|
half a peeled pumpkin
|The dehydrated pineapple sage was replaced with|
piquanté peppers - I have a longing for some ground
piquanté pepper this winter :)
The unit is easy to clean (a hosepipe and some spurting water, or a jug of water and washing-up brush takes care of any food which may, or may not, stick to the drying surface) and all the wood has been sealed with an eco-friendly, food safe sealant. (I purposely left the legs lying in a puddle of rain water for three days, and discovered absolutely no swelling / distortion whatsoever. Please note though, that leaving a unit filled with your excess harvest out in the rain is pointless as the food will, obviously, just absorb the moisture, and you'll have to start the dehydration process all over again.)
Whoohoo - the "Foothills DryAway" will enable me to preserve more without having to rely on available freezer space, nor loads of cupboard space for all those (potentially limited lifespan) water-bathed, or pressure canned, jars of food. Plus, dehydrating my excess harvest means that I'll never have to top up my veggie stock out of the growing season by purchasing shop sold produce in order to serve it for dinner, or when I have unexpected visitors.
Properly dehydrated food lasts for ages and offers the convenience of eating easily reconstituted summer produce out of season.
What a pleasure :)
This dehydrator is working so well, I need to order more units so that I can dehydrate whilst the weather is still suitable... :D
Footnote: The pumpkin slices I dehydrated were cut a little too thick so they took 4 days to dehydrate. In future I am going to try 1) cutting the slices much thinner, and 2) coarsely grating the pumpkin and spreading that on the drying net. Other than that I'm very happy with my South African solar dehydrator